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Program can tamp down drug abuse and crime in Hernando County

State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, may seek help in Hernando County for a problem he discovered in west Pasco during the 2008 campaign. Along with the usual concerns about taxes, government spending and property insurance rates came a new message from senior citizens along the campaign trail last year: We're frightened.

They didn't need to look far for the source of their fear. They pointed to the middle-of-the-night home invasion robbery/homicide in Timber Oaks in late August that left 82-year-old Joseph Wido shot dead.

"It was eye-opening to me,'' said Legg. "A lot of our seniors in Gulf Highlands, Regency Park, they're just scared.''

Eight days after Legg's successful re-election to the state Legislature came more tragedy. Sixty-two-year-old Linda Roma was killed when she fell and hit her head while struggling with a pair of purse snatchers outside the T.J. Maxx in Hudson.

Deputies made arrests in both cases that are unrelated on the surface, but tied together by prescription drug abuse. It is the reason, Pasco Sheriff Bob White said, that Francis Sicola was breaking into homes in west Pasco on Aug. 27-28 when he confronted Wido. The charges against Steve Anthony Cruz and Lisa Michelle Dillard, for their role in Roma's death, include obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Legg met with the sheriff. He talked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He looked at the numbers.

A 2007 federal survey found that one in five Americans older than 12 (50 million people) reported nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants or sedatives at some point in their lifetimes. The same survey found nearly 7 million people (2.8 percent of the population age 12 or older) had used those same psychotherapeutic drugs for nonmedical purposes over the past month.

They have street names like hillbilly heroin (oxycodone), vitamin R (Ritalin) and ludes (depressants), but they are finding their ways from the back of the medicine cabinet, where they have been prescribed for legitimate reasons, to the street, where they are ingested for recreational purposes. Prescription medications trail only marijuana as the drug of choice among teenage users.

Legg is proposing the environmentally friendly approach to try to curb the opportunities for prescription drug abuse. As an alternative to flushing unused medications down the toilet, Legg filed a bill (HB 1357) in the 2009 legislative session modeled after efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

It's called product stewardship. Businesses that profit from having their products in the marketplace share some of the responsibility for collecting the unused portions from consumers. Think of it as recycling of prescription drugs — except there is no intent to reuse the leftover pharmaceuticals.

The impetus elsewhere has been a desire to keep drugs out of the public water supply and from landfill leachate. Legg acknowledged that is a secondary consideration; his focus is curbing criminal behavior. Exactly how it will work is not yet determined because Legg anticipates some negotiations along the way.

But, given Pasco's role in providing underground water for the Tampa Bay region, Legg said he may suggest a pilot program for Pasco and Hernando counties if it helps the idea gain wider acceptance.

In Clark County, Wash., for instance, a program has been in place for 12 years. Noncontrolled pharmaceuticals are collected by pharmacies, and controlled substances are taken to the local police station or the sheriff's office where they are inventoried and then destroyed.

Oregon is investigating a program and looks for inspiration across the border to British Columbia, where an effort existed for more than 10 years. In 2006, pharmacies there collected 44,000 pounds of unused medications.

In 2003, the Maine Legislature created a mail-in program to be administered by its state drug enforcement agency, then failed to fund it for four years.

It sounds like something Florida's lawmakers would do. The 2009 Legislature shouldn't let that happen. This is a pro-environment, pro-public safety idea that shouldn't be stuck on a back shelf somewhere like the drugs it seeks to eradicate.

Program can tamp down drug abuse and crime in Hernando County 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 7:09pm]
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